Today marks one week that I’ve been living in Aguascalientes, where I’m spending my Fulbright year as an English Teaching Assistant. I’ve met a ton of awesome hidrocálidos (the name for Aguascalientes natives, literally “Hot Water People”), explored most of the city by foot (I’m still too cheap for buses), and found a marvelous semi-permanent place to live (¡gracias a Dios!). This city is home to around a million Mexicans, but it definitely has a small town feel. After spending most of last year fighting for space on the São Paulo metro with 20 million other people, that’s a welcome change. Aguascalientes boasts a lot of gorgeous architecture, including impressive churches and sprawling plazas. I got lucky and found a private room connected to a grandma’s house right on the corner of Jardín de San Marcos, a tranquil garden in the middle of downtown. The kitchen is not much to look at, nor is my humble room, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a faster Internet connection here than at my house in Santa Rosa… and it’s not even stolen from the neighbors!
After arriving to Aguascalientes last Monday evening, my UAA (Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes) tutor took me out to dinner and delivered me to another teacher’s apartment, where I stayed a few nights as I looked for other housing options. On Tuesday I went to the university and met all the teachers in the Foreign Languages department, plus most of the students. I’ll be working with students who are studying to become English teachers, extension school students who are pure beginners, and everyone in between via English conversation clubs at the library. The best parts of the job, besides molding the minds of young scholars and eating tacos daily for lunch, you ask? I’m legally only permitted to work 14 hours per week, and my contract entitles me to three day weekends every single weekend. Oh baby.
Tuesday night I went out to a pizzeria with several of the other university teachers and watched the Rieleros de Aguascalientes pro baseball team play Game 6 of the Mexican championship series against the Rojos del Águila de Veracruz. Our team lost, but it was exciting to support them in their first championship appearance since 1978. The rest of the week I was free to spend my time getting to know the city, which I absolutely did. My favorite things about being back in Mexico largely relate to food: cheap pan dulce from panaderias on every corner, chili-covered lollipops, aguas frescas from street vendors (especially horchata and jamaica), TACOS, chaskafrutas (fresh fruit frozen yogurt covered with chocolate)… I also love hearing banda music everywhere, running into mariachi concerts in the middle of the mall food court, and the daily “¡El gaaaaaaasss!” cry from the dude who refills home gas tanks (haha people who have spent time in Mexico will recognize that call).
Thursday night I went to a Mexihco Babel meeting downtown, which is a biweekly encounter for polyglots. We met in a café and split into small groups to practice speaking whatever foreign language we’re learning. My group played Pictionary in English (ok, in Spanglish) while another group played Uno in French (or Un, I guess). On Friday night I was invited to a welcome party for the first-year English language students. Most of the university language teachers attended as well, and it was at the house of one of the students. I admit that culturally it seems kind of strange/dangerous to have students and teachers partying hard together, but that’s what happens here and who am I to judge? I had a blast meeting lots of my students and surprising everyone with my ability to dance banda (“No manches, I told you I was Mexican, didn’t I?”).
My weekend was very relaxing, in part due to heavy rainfall in the afternoons and evenings. On Saturday night an English assistant from outside London arrived at the house; she’ll be staying in one of the extra rooms until she can find a more permanent place. I’ve enjoyed hanging out with her a bit and introducing her to Mexican street food. This morning we went to the university early so I could start my first day of work on the right foot. I led a two-hour Q&A session with students in a Listening and Speaking class, and it went perfectly. It was a great opportunity for us to get to know each other, and I hope it got them a little more excited about the doors English will open for them down the road.